Report: Meteoroids, space junk pose increasing dangers to spacecraft, satellites
It seems prescient now that an artist in 1978 performed this rendering to highlight the danger of orbital debris.
September 2nd, 2011
09:33 AM ET

Report: Meteoroids, space junk pose increasing dangers to spacecraft, satellites

It sounds like the theme of a 1980s video game, but the National Research Council say NASA should seriously consider ways to better tackle the problem of space debris.

In a 180-page report out this week, the council said NASA, partly because of slashed funding, is facing mounting pressure to find ways to lessen the dangers "posed by abandoned equipment, spent rocket bodies, and other debris orbiting the Earth." Oh, and meteoroids, too, an ex-NASA department head added.

Some models show that the amount of debris has reached a “tipping point,” meaning there is enough junk already in orbit that it could keep colliding, creating more debris and endangering spacecraft, satellites and the International Space Station.

The council said debris has already destroyed satellites, and the space station recently experienced a near miss. CNN reported another close call in March 2009.

Not only does NASA need to manage the mess floating around in the great beyond, it might need to remove it, the council advised.

"NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk," Donald Kessler, chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired head of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office, said in a news release.

The council warns that part of the problem is that NASA has several programs for dealing with orbital debris, but most are staffed by only one person (evoking images of glassy-eyed teens in their rooms commanding laser-equipped space drones with joysticks).

The report claims that about 30 percent of the debris can be attributed to U.S. space activity, but NASA and the American government have not fully explored “the economic, technological, political and legal considerations.”

Political, you ask? Yes, we stumbled on that one, too, but the report explains that international law prevents nations from collecting another country’s space objects.

“Therefore, the report recommends, NASA should engage the U.S. Department of State in the legal requirements and diplomatic aspects of active debris removal,” she said.

As if Hillary Clinton didn’t already have her hands full with the Arab Spring.

The report further suggests NASA should identify spacecraft anomalies to better understand the risk posed by debris, lead public discussions on the problem and emphasize that space junk is a long-term concern for society. Congress, the public and state and federal agencies should also devise a strategy and update it regularly, according to the report.

Where is Bruce Willis when you need him?

Post by:
Filed under: In Space • News
soundoff (260 Responses)
  1. linkbuilding service

    Thanks for every other excellent article. The place else may anybody get that type of info in such a perfect means of writing? I've a presentation subsequent week, and I'm on the search for such info.

    March 31, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  2. This is awesome stuff, its good to be in the know.

    Admiring the time and effort you put into your website and in depth information you offer. It's nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same old rehashed material. Excellent read! I've bookmarked your site and I'm including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    November 18, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  3. Bob

    How about this? To knock all the space debris into decaying orbits we get many explosive and incinerative missiles launched into the sky, they bust out of Earth's orbit and explode. So the outer shell INCINERATES and the shock wave from the explosion pushes the space junk and satellites into decaying orbits thus clearing a certain area of space junk either into Earth's atmosphere or away form Earth all otgehter?

    September 22, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  4. Jazzee

    Dear Team and readers, as a participant of Singularity University '11 at NASA Ames, I would be very happy to share with you my video about space debris :

    http://twitc.com/Prx1eWiui

    My goal now is to create an INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION where country from all over the world coud collaborate, cooperate and regulate the space trash/debris/satellite regulations.

    Feel free to contact me if interested , my e-mail is in the video.

    I hope you will like it and don't hesitate to publish it and share it.

    Jaz.

    September 3, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  5. Joe

    I see this subject has caught the knee-jerk reactions of a few high schoolers as well as college guys & gals (mostly guys, my bet). How quaint and ironic. Whatever "The final Frontier" has in store for us it will surely require that we pull our heads from our asses, gentlemen. As your angry comments digitally make their way across this great universe of ours, surely real intelligent life elsewhere will just shake their alien heads and say something along the lines of "yeah, don't bother making contact there. Yukh."

    September 3, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  6. satanbug

    We ain't gettin off this rock anyway, unless u have some way to beat the speed of light...and don't give me that wormhole stuff, otherwise we'd be lousy w/ ET's.....maybe what we should do is download all our music, films, works of art etc and shoot it out into space on a thousand rockets along with some of our DNA and maybe a few downloaded human brains..otherwise we are gonna tap out our resources and toxify our environment and probably nobody is gonna ver know we were here. It is an enevitiable and inescapable facet of human nature...have a great day

    September 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • ChaoticDreams

      there's always warping the 11th dimension around us so as to go distances faster than light could without actually going faster than light...but that would take astronomical amounts of energy

      September 6, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  7. nucelar scientist.

    I have the greatest idea .Its a Eureka moment people! Duct tape is the solution. We make a huge net of duct tape , tape it to itself make it round so the sticky part is on the out side. let it float out there.. Space debris will stick to it . Once It has enough junk on it , like the sticky trap in my basement that has trapped about 20 house centipedes We have bring it down here and throw it out.

    September 2, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  8. Bob

    About those shields I think that if we used some kind of a force since magnets will not work. Like a blast but at a controlled area so all the bits fall back either to Earth or go into orbit around the moon and crash there.Not necessarily a nuke since that explosion would continue out into space, since there is no friction out there. However, if we fired some kind of a non radioactive/chemical missile. Also the explosions would have to take place on a non boarded space craft. Seriously though the blast would act as a shield pushing everything away and smashing it into smaller bits and finally falling back to Earth or moving out towards the moon.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  9. wendy5

    well they trashed up earth ; did you not expect them to do the same with space; i bet these people are dirty at home also

    September 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • satanbug

      Who exactly are "these people"? The human race?

      September 2, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
      • Truefax

        Yeah fug "those people" we should deport them all off the plant.

        September 2, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • keith

      i agree. the people of earth are going to trash the world like the movie wall-e

      September 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  10. MjrHoser

    Sounds like we need to get working on some shields....just like in Star Trek!

    September 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  11. GeeezLouise

    The comments on here are great!! ...but yea, we've got to get off this rock and expand to the stars if we want to keep our civilization alive. Why spend money on space junk and other pointless endeavors when the future of this planet is bleak anyway.... Heck, we could even leave all the religious folk here to eat their god soup in peace! We don't need them representing us at the galactic level anyway. :P

    September 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • satanbug

      space is too big and everything is too far and we ain't fast enough...star trek unfortunately, is not going to happen

      September 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  12. smc

    Great! I'm all for cleaning up the space junk – just as long as other countries pay for their 70% share.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • satanbug

      Golly maybe it will create jobs

      September 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  13. cdub

    its interesting that some of you find humor in this. yet another major debacle of human kind. we have no right to destroy our planet and we have even less a right to pollute the cosmos. unfortunately we always find a way to overlook the big picture as we evolve....a trend with a short life-span no doubt.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • No0ne

      We have very right to destroy our planet...It's OUR planet. If we dont have the right then who does? As for the Cosmos...until we have prrof that we're polluting someone else's backyard, I'd say we have that right too.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
      • Meestor Yay

        Yeah! Nuke the whales! Their OUR whales!

        September 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
      • cdub

        wow. you must be single.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
      • Chaos

        We have very right to destroy our planet...It's OUR planet. If we dont have the right then who does?

        We have future generations coming. But let me guess, you're such a sniveling a hole that you didn't care about anyone other than you.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  14. Augsbury

    It's more economical to keep everything up there. Why waste more money in fueling back and forth when we we can re-use it all somehow to continue space exploration.

    What would be ideal is if we built a remote service station, such as a Car Garage, and employed it with Scientists and Mechanics, who recycled everything.

    And or, start using Mars or any other planets to contain the debris until we're able to actually begin the Recycling process !!!

    September 2, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • motts

      your post shows a very high degree of ingorance,are you a horader?

      September 3, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  15. ArealRocketScientist

    most of you know nothing about space and the current conditions that are up there... it wil never look like the movie wall-e... most craft are disposed of by reentry or ejecting them to unusable junk orbits... please, your ignorance pains me, at least do a google search before opening your mouths and proving yourself ignorant.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Truefax

      I'm sorry for you if ignorance pains you, you must be hurting all the damn time. This is America; we can be as ignorant as we choose to be. Hell ignorance will get you elected president, just look at GWB and Ricky Perry (Bobby). Being intellectual, pragmatic or even the ability to compromise or empathize with others are traits that are seen as weakness.

      This is America, we know what we know and it doesn't matter what you have to say about it. You’re either with us or against us, so leave now or get used to the pain.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Brad

      "ejecting them to unusable junk orbits"?! yeah, you are a real rocket scientist alright!

      September 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Michael

    A "near miss" is a hit.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  17. Kurt

    I say leave the debris. It probably acts as a plug for our ozone layer, and will provide some shielding for the next asteroid event. :)

    September 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  18. ngc1300

    I sure hope the people at NASA are reading this forum, so they'll know how to deal with this.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  19. Frenchy

    Everything humans touch, they pollute.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • InForAPenny

      A bear dumps in the woods it's nature. A human dumps in the woods it's deplorable situation and is pollution. Give me a break.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
      • Meestor Yay

        Your dumps are made of rockets? Ouch...

        September 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
      • Truefax

        @Yay, best comment ever.

        September 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  20. Tommie T

    One idea is for a linear accelerator. Eject the junk out the back and use the power to get to the next piece of junk. It could be solar powered, not nuclear powered. That would please Algore.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  21. WhatWhatWhat?

    We're doomed to extinction on this planet. In a few years, when all the debris has started a chain reaction collision, we won't be able to leave. Then, all the religious delusionists will claim that it was gods doing, and, as the population explodes, all the wars that erupt in the name of god will do us in. The biggest reason we need to get off of this planet is because of god.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Kwai Chang

      No, its because of the periodic mass extinctions.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • satanbug

      i feel you man...god is a terrific load of nonsense...laughable were it not so tragic...but our nature seems to have sealed our fate with or without santa clause for grown ups...we have really changed very little since we traversed the wastelands of Africa 3 million years ago. We use everything at our disposal until it is exhausted and when we are done with it, we just drop it where we stand and move on. It is really only within the last 100 years or so that had become toxic to us and the life forms around us...eventually we will be gone and something else will dominate the planet ...hopefully it will do a better job...

      September 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  22. Jim

    Interesting this article is all about what NASA should do, but it was China that intentionally blew up a satellite creating a large cloud of debris that is mostly still up there.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  23. MooDaddy

    It's not enough that we F'd this planet with garbage and debris we now have to do it to space..Unreal! This place will soon be like it is depicted in the movie WALL-E, no doubt.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  24. Recovering Republican

    Send Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme up in the space shuttle, and pay them $100 for every sattelite they kick down to earth. Or send Dick Cheney up, and his evil will vaporize the junk the same way it vaporized ethics in the White House.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Seraphim0

      Awesome.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  25. Mike

    Oh Lordy. Something else to be scared of. Hopefully we can throw billions of dollars at this issue and hope it goes away.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • motts

      you think the space above earth is junked up then you should take a look at "The great pacific garbage patch"
      This whole planet is screwed up man & woman has made a cess-pool out of this planet, just think if some"et's"wanted to come to earth they couldn't get thur on account of all the space junk,and some folks got the gall to say certain area's in some
      cities are ghetto's,well i got news for ya the whole planet is a ghetto,humans are sloppy,you will never get to visit other worlds
      so stay on your pig-pen planet,and clean it up.

      September 3, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  26. RealityCheck

    You had me at puttttuuuuuwwweeeee.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  27. Wildman Bill

    If a satellite is dying and it has propellant left, the remaining fuel should be used to send it down to a fiery death.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • John John

      Not enough fuel. You need to slow it down by about 95% and it is traveling boo-coo kph up there. If you could slow down all those objects they would just fall to earth.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  28. pipefighter

    Bruce Willis, this is a job for Chuck Norris. No offnese, Bruce.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Kwai Chang

      The only problem is, the US has no way to put humans into space, and the world has no way of bringing a payload back to earth. Both of those capabilities died with the Shuttle program. Thanks to the nearsightedness of Bush, Obama, and the US Congress.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  29. CPW

    But this is the way humans take care of things. Even on the ground we just dump stuff everywhere. Now we have just moved it into space as well. Humans are terrible things. We chew it up and spit it out everywhere.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  30. Greenspam

    Consider how large our atmospheric surface it. Assuming there are 1M pieces of space junk, my quick calculation tells me that you can look 500 miles in all directions and chances is you won't see 1 single piece of space junk 99% of the time. What's the problem?

    September 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Spacey

      Yes, the region is large, but there are certain altitudes that are optimal and so a lot of the junk is conectrated into small areas. It's like looking at the vastness of the continental United States and asking how come there's so much traffic on the 405 freeway.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • helmto108

      Space junk is not stationary. They revolve around the earth in orbits. 1 million pieces of space junk is not a large number relative to the total atmospheric area, except when those tiny pieces of metal are moving at 12,000+ MPH.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      500 miles isn't very far when you and the piece of space junk are traveling over 15,000mph.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
      • jj

        Orbital altitudes may be vast, but things happen fast up there. 17,500 head on = 35,000 mph, which is ~52,500 fps. The Earth's circumference, at sea level, is about 24,000 miles. zoom zoom!

        September 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      There are preferred orbital paths, either due to low cost or because of the type of orbit, but the debris is not scattered around a 360 degree sphere in all directions, so your math is wrong. It really doesn't matter anyway how far you have to look to see something because at 17, 500 mph, and that's just for the low orbit of the shuttle and space station, the stuff is going around the Earth once every hour and a half. It might miss you on the first pass, but it keeps going and going and going until something stops it. You're the same type of numbskull who dumps their trash over the fence, and then claims there's no waste management problem because their yard is clean. There's a lot of this going on in Texas, for example.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  31. curt

    Ya China F'd up big time.. Idiots.

    September 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • curt

      Leave it the people that eat cats and gods in soup to mess up our space.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
      • curt

        *Dogs

        September 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
      • Homer

        MMMM God soup

        September 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
      • Ragnaroni

        There aren't too many Catholics in China–they're the ones that eat gods.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
      • Aaron

        I'll have the Vishnu Bisque.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
      • Meestor Yay

        Mmm Cream of Christ

        September 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Reagan f'd up first, when he had them blew up the SolWind satellite while it was still being used by several hundred researchers. I chunk of its paint almost penetrated the shuttle's windshield years later.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  32. citizenUSA

    Too late! The debris is already re-forming into an army of killer robots that will enter our atmosphere and conquer The Earth! Oh, the humanity...

    September 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • BeerBrewerDan

      I, for one, welcome our new Space Junk Killer Robot overlords.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
      • Davey Jones

        Well said Mr Falkner!

        September 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
      • Nichole

        agreed

        September 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
      • Kilbot

        I like the way you think. Instructions will follow.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Jaf

      This is a great idea for a sci-fi movie....a group of teenagers travel to space for a weekend getaway, only to be confronted by an army of space junk robots...everyone dies except for the geek who managed to outsmart the robots by turning his phone into a remote control and sending the robots on a permanent orbit towards the sun!

      September 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  33. Peter

    Sounds like we've found a use for all those old nukes laying around.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      You sir, are a complete frigging idiot. Please keep your pie hole shut until the ride comes to a complete stop. Thank you.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  34. Filthy

    We need Mega Maid!

    "She's switching from suck to blow!"

    September 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Nichole

      Lm*o! Yeah!

      September 2, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  35. Skipper

    Just as our politicians show daily, its far easier to point out a problem than to suggest a solution.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  36. Jaf

    what about photon blasters, would they help in vaporizing the junk from earth?

    September 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Only if you remove the atmosphere first.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  37. Skipper

    I'm by no stretch a teen but, if they'll assign me one of those laser space drones, I'll take the graveyard shift......

    September 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  38. What!?!!

    Let the free market handle it. Don't worry about a little clutter. The free market has a great track record of handling by-products and waste.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  39. SolutionMan

    The solution in a zero gravity environment is magnetism. Design multiple solar powered electromagnetic arrays to attract and capture the debris over the next few decades. As the arrays attract and capture more metallic objects their mass will increase over time resulting in a decaying orbit that will eventually result in the array and its collected material to burn up in the atmosphere. Obviously place these arrays in differing orbits and track them to avoid collisions with operational devices already in orbit.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • pete

      add laser beams and you have a deal!

      September 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
      • Soundeffectsman

        Yes, lasers. But only good if they make that puttttuuuuuwwweeeee sound each time you pull the trigger. Also, may need something to record points scored.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Skipper

      I believe you will find that most, if not all, space debris is non-ferrous metal and composites. Aluminum, magnesium, titanium, and corbon fiber are not attracted to magnets....

      September 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
      • Soundeffectsman

        That's why lasers that make that puttttuuuuuwwweeeee sound would be so effective.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
      • Gilligan

        Wow they have corbon fiber now? Why just yesterday we only had carbon fiber!

        September 2, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
      • Mike

        Damn Skipper, now you've gone and destroyed the deam.
        I guess the lasers are still the best idea.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
      • Beaner

        Gilligan..........you're a jerk........everybody knew what he meant........an inconsequential typo doesn't detrack from the pertinent information given.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Almost all space debris is non-magnetic.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Spiderman In support of SolutionMan

      You're on to something Sparky! The key concepts are passive aggregation and self disposal. A 100Kg of a strong filament that deployed into a large three dimensional matrix sporting an electromagnetic attraction and/or some other chemical "stickiness" would aggregate low energy objects and passively slow down high energy objects colliding with it. Eventually it falls to earth.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  40. GerC

    Who put those junks up there? There is not a part of this planet that we have not polluted. One of these days our spacecraft or satellite will be hit by one of those debris.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      They already have. A piece of paint from the SolWind satellite that Reagan ordered to be blown up almost penetrated the shuttle's windshield.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  41. Gary

    I know! we could just send superman up there and have him take it all to the moon

    September 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  42. Gary

    How about useing some type of magnit beam and focus it on the junk or areas, and suck it back to earth to burn up?

    September 2, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Joma14

      'magnit' beam? really?? We're doomed.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
      • pete

        lol

        September 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
      • JimVA

        You know – "magnit". When a good 'ol boy takes out his Magnum 45 and shoots it, he's "magnit".

        September 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • pete

      Gary.... A magnet of that strength would be stronger than the earths magnetic strength thus pulling everything metal on earth to that one point. if there could be a way to strap small oxygen canisters to them that would propel them towards earth or even a vehicle that could push them towards earth they would burn up in the atmosphere. We could also find a way to push them out of earths orbit and into space itself. This would all cost money that the Govt and NASA doesn't have.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Skipper

      Try getting an aluminum can to stick to a magnet.... you'll find it doesnt work.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
      • Soundeffectsman

        See above helpful advise about using puttttuuuuuwwweeeee sound-making laser.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  43. fundies

    i hate navigating through that junk when I am flying around.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  44. allrightlythen

    here's a thought...why don't the lazy nasty Americans and Russians get up there and clean their debris up?? Amazing how stupid humans are...nope not amazing at all. The dummies thought with cruise ships, just toss it, the ocean will make it dissapear, airplanes oh just let the waste drop to the earth, space no one will ever want to come here. Lets see how many dummies blame Obama for this.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Joma14

      bitw, where IS Jimmy Hoffa??

      September 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • anothermuse

      Well my less than educated or coherent friend, those lazy spacefarers are kind of tied to the space station and can't really leave with a broom and a mop. But keep thinking on it, sure you'll have the answer soon

      September 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • DoobieDaps

      It's Obama's fault, just like the earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes....oh yeah, and our massive and ever increasing debt and no job creation...forgot about those calamities

      September 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  45. us1776

    We need to send some space missions whose sole purpose is to gather up all this space junk and send it back into the atmosphere to burn up.

    In fact we need to develop some type of satellites who sole purpose is to run around and do this type of cleanup on a daily basis.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Joma14

      huh?

      September 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
      • Nichole

        Read a little further down, it gets better. Some guy wants to put a big net up there lm*o!!!! Kevlar, yeah Kevlar should do it, that's the ticket....

        September 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • anothermuse

      Actually a satellite who uses propellent to push the debris into a deteriating orbit could be used. No new technology needed, except for control and guidance. Shouldn't be much except dead satellites that would survive reentry..Cheap and possible effective solution that could launch in a couple years time. Maybe a private company would like to test their space legs on it...contact out to NASA and foreign space agencies...ca chingggg

      September 2, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
      • Nichole

        I bet NASA is wondering where you have been all this time...brilliant! ~sarcasm

        September 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
      • Soundeffectsman

        As I've said time and time again, puttttuuuuuwwweeeee lasers.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        We need an international law requiring that any object launched, including booster bodies, must have de-orbiting capability. Any country of corporation that can not de-orbit their junk for any reason should have to pay a $100,000,000 fine for the first offense (doubled for each succeeding offense). This would fund clean-up technology. Anyone that doesn't pay up gets their rockets lasered in boost phase until they do.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
      • WhatWhatWhat?

        Hey Clark, the first thing your idea would do is shutdown all space related business because no one would take those risks. If we can live without cell phones and probably large parts of the Internet, why not, eh?

        September 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
      • motts

        what nasa should do is to bring back 1 space shuttle and use it as a space tow-truck,heck i'll drive it but recovery work is hard
        work,something like a repo-man,did both jobs had a sign on my rig "YOU CALL I HAUL THAT'S ALL"big money is made as a
        recovery specalist hey nasa gimme a call.

        September 3, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Wisdom

      How about we just stop going to space, and start fixing up the planet we've been f'n up for the last 150 years

      September 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
      • Wes

        As you type this jibbersh on your space age computer sitting in your space age chair eating microwaved food. Who needs space travel?

        September 2, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Neither microwave cooking nor the invention of the computer are results of space travel. Both preceded space travel by at least a decade.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
      • JimVA

        That's right, the microwave and the electronic computer were products of war research and development. NASA and it's fraction of a percent of the DoD budgets developed a lot of other stuff. But let's cut it all and "solve the problems we have here today". You know, give the money away to talkers instead of thinkers and doers...

        September 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
      • Kwai Chang

        1. We'll never 'Fix' Earth.You might as well say "lets concentrate in figuring out alchemy first!"
        2. Species who are confined to a single planet are doomed to extinction. (Just ask the dinosaurs.)

        September 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
      • Meestor Yay

        Earth is fixing us. We're a virus with shoes.

        September 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • it's not alot

      a giant Roomba for outer space!!

      September 2, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  46. Matt B.

    Ok we will get right on that. We will just send a shuttle mission to tackle the problem...Oh wait...Thants right the government cut our funding...

    September 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Kwai Chang

      Sad but true.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  47. Joma14

    Greetings, Earthlings. I am from a far away galaxy, comprised in part of space junk. I was listening in to your blog to see if there was any intelligence on your planet, so it and its inhabitants might be salvaged.

    To my dismay, whatever intelligence there might have been has been lost. Zapped due to decades of pontificating about space junk, politics, immigration, and the Kardasians.

    We find that there is hardly any salvage value in your planet, and peopleparticipating in blogs is lowering the average IQ of your species at a staggering rate. Soon you will all be plants, and we will feed youto our cows.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Jeff

      Right. Reading and writing (blogging) are signs of the lack on intelligence.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • kus

      absolutly hillarious lmao

      September 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  48. The Cat

    There needs to be a UN mandate to allow for the salvage and/or removal of any space debris that is not a functioning satellite. Then, either NASA or private industry has to create some kind of ship, or remote drone that can either collect the junk and move it to a safer orbit (where it can be recycled for it's rare metals and components), or latch on to it and drive it down into the atmosphere where it will burn up harmlessly. It took millions of dollars and millions of pounds of thrust to put all that stuff in orbit. Why not figure out a way to reuse it instead of sending it to a fiery death on re-entry.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • deathwombat

      Because it's not reusable. A lot of the debris is just bits of metal that aren't worth very much, and the dead satellites have obsolete technology that we have no use for on Earth. It's not worth the expense of trying to bring this stuff back in one piece for recycling, or to recycle or reuse it in space. The best solution is to deorbit it.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  49. Schaubut

    Recycle all of it into something useful. Everything man has put into space has cost a lot of money. Its a lot cheaper to use the junk for something else if possible.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Veetman

      You are kidding, right? Do you have any concept of how much it would cost to even get to the junk, let alone capture, return and recycle it? It costs between $5000 and $10,000 per pound to send something up into space, so you want to send up a multi-ton rocket, with all the expensive electronics and control systems to round up a bunch of nuts, bolts and obsolete rocket parts, and then bring them back and recycle them?

      September 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  50. Dynan3

    Look...I'm no rocket surgeon, but how about controlled nets to impact the objects, avoiding satellites and other useful things. The impact would slow the object down enough to cause a firey re-entry. Known 'junk orbits' could easily be calculated.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • AGeek

      "slow down", by what mechanism? You're dealing with objects in space. Effectively zero gravity, which means impacts simply change course, not speed. Impacts mean knowing *precisely* where those two (or more) objects are going to go, and at what speed, to ensure they're not going to club something you meant to preserve.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • andrew

      I'm not a rocket "surgeon" or scientist either lol. I think the problem with a lot of debris in space is figuring out a way to safely, efficiently AND cost effectively clean it up. It is super dangerous since momentum in space is for the most part perpetual (i know i know, but for all intents and purposes) since there is no atmosphere to cause resistance or slow objects down and also there are very weak gravitational forces. So if debris is moving at a high speed but still in orbit it can be very dangerous to a cleanup operation and it could also ruin whatever net you might have setup.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Veetman

      Space junk is zooming around at up to thousands of miles an hour. What shall we make the net from?

      September 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
      • DonnyB4

        How about ShamWow towels? Because everyone knows the Germans make great stuff!

        September 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
      • Scotty Boy

        "How about some gold bracelets?"

        September 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Dan Tanna

      I'm not a Rocket Surgeon, but I am a Brain Scientist...

      September 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Dynan3

      The net would be kevlar, stanley steel or anything with enough strength to reduce the junk's velocity, thus causing re-entry...same as retro rockets slow craft for re-enty. The net would, of course, be sacrificial and need replacement periodically.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
      • Nichole

        Kevlar, see, Kevlar I told you, that's the ticket...and some duct tape...big sticky balls of duct tape...with big magnets stuck to it....and tiny little jet packs....maybe some wings...yeah...that's it....tiny little wings...aaaahhhhh, so glad that's settled.

        September 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Right. A 500 X 1000 mile net which would weigh several hundred billion tons and be completely unlaunchable. That's the ticket.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • anothermuse

      Speed shouldn't really be the problem it would be trajectory. I high speed object, most of these are less than 3 feet large, simply redirected using who knows, maybe propellant from a sattelite sent for the purpose, could redirect the trajectory into a deterioting orbit. Ok, so I have no solid knowledge of physics, but smart people, tell me the flaw

      September 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Every piece of debris more than a millimeter across (and there are billions of these) can take out a satellite.. The Israelis have satellites that travel the wrong way in the Clarke belt filled with explosives and small metal penetrators. Their purpose is to destroy all geostationary satellites in a few hours if they're detonated. (Talk about asymmetric warfare, these only cost a million or so to launch). What do we do if one of those goes off accidentally? You wouldn't be able to orbit another comm sat for hundreds or thousands of years.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Evan

      Let's just strap a few Soyuz rockets to a log chain, attach the other end to the top of Mt. Everest, launch the rockets and pull the Earth into a different orbit. Yep! That'll work! Solves that problem. Why don't I work for NASA?

      September 2, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • JimVA

      Oh lordy, pick up a book or take some course or seminar on astrophysics, aerospace, or science, so all you "Space Surgeons" and kevlar fisherman would even remotely know what you're talking about. Trust me, this topic is really more fascinating than watching the Kardashians when you know a little reality. If you knew the physics and did the math, you'd know that a small #14 nut travelling at 17,000 mph (umm, the speed necessary to stay in orbit) would vaporize through anything it ran into. Kevlar net? Recycle debris? Maybe you're really trying to think of ideas and that is commendable, but your imagination would be so much more fruitful if you got a little schooling in the subject. Go ahead, it's a great field and we desperately need more aerospace engineers to really solve these problems.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Dynan3

      Maybe I should just send up a comment like the fuuny one I with which I began this comedyfest! Look...I already snagged a great big bunch of poopy-drawers, snobs and pseudo-intellectuals!!!

      September 2, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  51. M R

    Easy....... Space Roomba! But with little jet packs and lasers.........

    September 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  52. Seth Hill

    If we just wait long enough, gravitational attraction will gather all the space junk into a new (small) moon. That would be easy to track and avoid. Maybe a billion years, more or less.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  53. My evil father

    Springer: "And where is he now?"

    Scott Evil: "Uhhh....he's like cyrogenically frozen orbiting the earth or something."

    September 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  54. Josh

    What a waste for all those Shuttle flights, that landed with their cargo bay empty. Each Shuttle flight should have been required to pick up all the scrap they could fit, and return it back.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Yeah, that makes sense! Try to collect things whizzing past, bolts, nuts, booster rockets, whatever, at 10 times the speed of a bullet!
      You are volunteered first.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
      • Tom

        The space junk in the same orbit as the Shuttle,will probably be traveling at close to the same speed. So, the relative difference would be zero. Just like the way the Shuttle use to be able to cozy up to a satellite or telescope, and grab onto it with its Canadian arm. The Shuttle could have cozied up to the junk, and filled it cargo bay.

        September 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        And what would the shuttle do about polar orbit debris that would be coming at them at right angles?

        September 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  55. TuathaBlue

    Very true. Entrepreneurs take note.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  56. riocasa1

    Time to get Waste Mangerment into space, will they call the union, AFLCIO or AFLUFO

    September 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tom

      UFOICU ?

      September 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  57. Capt Kirk

    To the poster who wrote "I can live without a satellite, gps, cell phone, etc – I did it when I was a kid and I was just fine" – well I STRONGLY AGREE. Here is something to ponder...

    The choice might be made for us when it is impossible to host a satellite in space because the junk will just tear it up eventually. At an exponential rate of junk increasing in space – we will eventually put ourselves back into the dark ages until such a time tech advances to the point that we can move around in orbit to clean up the space debris.

    It could take hundreds of years before GPS and Satellite Comms are reintroduced in society. Its an interesting ponderance to say the least. Might not come true...but what ...if?

    September 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Apparently, most people forget what GPS is ACTUALLY for.
      It's NOT for the public only. It's used by the military as a time standard for encrypted communications. If the time drifts on either end, the crypto stops working.
      But, hey, we can be fine without the military having secure communications. We can have them use pig latin to encode their messages or something, right?

      September 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
      • Tom

        Pig latin? I thought they used Navajo ?

        September 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
      • Capt Kirk

        Then MAYBE someone should have thought thru the space junk problem WELL IN ADVANCE of putting all the eggs in that basket...HMMMM? Its not that I don't want to lose the military but if the space junk tears apart the satellites and creates more space junk exponentially, we will be back to throwing stones...its a blessing because missile guidance systems will become unreliable anyway...which will make the earth a safer place. - but it won't really matter when the first unstoppable meteor / comet / asteroid tears earth a new as#h$$e in the next 50-100 years....or we blow ourselves up ...or clone an evil sheep with unstoppable super powers...or we all die of a mutated strain of super flu. ...so the space junk problem really doesn't seem all that bad...after all...its not MY problem....and I can't see how I as an individual private citizen can make any bit of difference....does anyone even read this drivel?

        Peace.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Captain Kirk,
        Inertial missile guidance will still work fine. It's not as accurate as GPS guidance but it's easy to use warheads with 10 to 50 times the yield. Feel safer now?

        September 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
      • JimVA

        Well, you got a piece of that right. But GPS was/is first deployed for precision guidance. Then precison navigation. Then precision timing, as you poiunt out. But the on-board atomic clocks were put there to enable the first purpose. Commercial use of "some" of the capabilities came last.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  58. Neil

    Just what we need is another committee. That will solve all the space problems. Like the exhaust fans in the sky over LA for smog removal. Or reinstate the shuttle, have it collect the space junk, return it to earth and recycle the material.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • jeffc

      Not exactly. The article stated that NASA has too many departments dealing with space debris, so I would assume they would be combined into one department/committee.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  59. evilsofa

    I seem to remember a TV show from the late 70's called Salvage 1 where a man built his own space ship to collect "junk" that the space program either left in orbit or on the moon and brought it back to earth for scrap metal hehehehe... In this date and age maybe NASA and the Government should be thinking Green rather then leaving all these orbital debris out there I would bet someone smart could think of a "auto return" feature of rocket bodies etc.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Let's review the article a bit, shall we?
      30% of the material up there is sent up by the US. That leaves 70% that is foreign, hence sovereign, can't be touched.
      The debris ranges from paint chips, nuts and bolts, tools, dead satellites and rocket boosters. Not to mention dead geosynchronous satellites that are sent to a higher orbit so that they're out of the way.
      The committee THEN suggests collecting METEROIDS?! ALL of these objects are moving around at 10 times the speed of a bullet.Going up to collect them would be like standing in front of a rifle target and catching lead to avoid contaminating the range berm!
      THEN, the idiot author mentions Hillary Clinton, as if SHE is the ENTIRE State Department, there are no other functionaries or staff members.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
      • Tom

        Where did you come up with 30% being US? Out of your rear hatch opening?

        For most of the space race, it was just US vs USSR. No one else played in space.

        Plus, most (all?) of the junk in space is abandoned, not sovereign property being claimed by a country.

        September 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
      • Eliott C. McLaughlin

        Hi Wzrd1, I respect your strong feelings on this issue and would like to point out three things: 1) dead satellites that moved themselves to another (out-of-the-way) orbit are not included in the report, to which I linked out so you could read the entire thing. 2) The same report says nothing of "collecting" meteroids. 3) As for me being an "idiot" regarding Hillary Clinton, I was more being tongue-in-cheek than asserting that she would tackle this problem alone. It was a quip, as were the references to Bruce Willis and the video game, Asteroids. I merely wanted to engage readers who might have less interest in the topic than yourself. My apologies if it came off as unintelligent. It was just a joke. In any case, we appreciate all our readers sharing their thoughts. Thanks for commenting!

        September 5, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  60. Jeffrey Root

    What people need to realize is that NASA does not have the bulk of the satellites. We've got phone companies, TV providers, GPS, Military, other countries, etc. etc. NASA should only have to take out their own trash. I also believe they should set their sights on stopping asteroids.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Josh

      How many US phone and TV companies, launched their own satellites into orbit without any involvement by NASA?

      September 2, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
      • Eric

        Almost all.

        September 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
      • Get Real

        Lots actually, India, China, Russia, Japan, the ESA, all have commercial launch capabilities. Hence the political portion of this story.

        September 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  61. Mike Land

    If junk is not bad enough then how about out of control satellites? Last year we had to pay for portable satellite receivers be placed at all 60 of our stations. That was because Galaxy 15 went rogue and began floating across the sky like a drunk driver on Christmas night. Galaxy 15 menaced Dish Network, Direct TV, and dozens of other networks. 7 months later, it finally sobered up and asked, "Where am I? and why the hell am I here?" they now plan to use it as a backup system after they get it back to its licensed location. But that cost our company around $150,000 in the process.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • booger

      Who cares about your company?

      September 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
      • Flicker

        Get out of my nose

        September 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  62. CDOSRUN

    Wow! Makes me remember the TV show from the 70's called Quark and stared Richard Benjamin. It was the adventures of a space garbage scow. Talk about prescient!

    September 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Mark

      Space garbage truck: see also _Salvage 1_ (with Andy Griffith).

      September 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Thoth-Amon

      Darn it! I was hoping somebody wouldn'e beat to the "Quark" reference! Oh well, great minds... Props!

      September 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
      • Tom

        I thought Quark was the barkeep on DS9.

        September 2, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  63. James

    Send convicted criminals up there to do clean up as part of community service, just like we use them to clean up along the roads.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  64. ChineseSpaceJunk

    In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite weapon test which destroyed a decommissioned weather satellite, smashing the object into 150,000 pieces larger than 1cm.

    Two years later, two satellites – one defunct and one active – crashed in orbit, creating even more debris.

    "Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years," said Donald Kessler, who led the research.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • stan turecki

      china isnt the only guilty party here. in '85 the us attacked the solwind P78-1 satellite with an ASM-135 fired from an F-15. this one test caused nasa to need to beef up the spec for physical shielding on the ISS

      September 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Don't forget Reagan's idiotic SolWind destruction, which predated the Chinese detonation by decades and was used by them as a defense for their actions.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  65. Jamie

    Why did they leave all that junk up there anyway?! It makes the space program sound like a bunch of hillbillies with old junk cars in their backyards instead of a sophisticated group of engineers and scientists planning space missions with clean razor scalpel precision.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • JimVA

      The God's honest truth is that they were both. And they wouldn't have acheived the great things they did if they didn't include either of them.

      The space programs were never about elegance, they were about acheiving the objective. There's still no way to get things up there without fire, flame, explosives, and expendables.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  66. Wes

    Create a new reality TV show to clean up this mess; Celebrity Space Treasure Hunter! Send has-been celebrities into space. Run a contest to see which one gets the return trip.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  67. Pliny

    Tell the Chinese to clean it up!!!!!

    On Jan-11, 2007, they tested their anti-satellite weapon ... by BLOWING IT UP IN SPACE.

    That one event put more junk/debris into space than the entire history of the US and Soviet space-programs combined!

    Make them pay to cleanup the mess they stupidly made!

    September 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Talgrath

      Exactly, other articles mention but CNN's seems to have skipped it. The vast majority of this space junk is due to two satellites colliding and the Chinese test of their anti-satellite weaponry which put an astonishingly estimated 150,000 pieces of space junk into wild and unpredictable orbits.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      The facts in your post aren't really facts. You're allowed your own opinion but not your own facts.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  68. David

    I can see we have no rocket scientist posting or anyone with an elementary knowledge of how orbits work. Everyone thinks since we fixed the Hubble telescope or they have watched TV and movies that you can just go into space and move around and get to any other place in earths orbit. Each satellite is launched into a specific orbit in a specific plane and moving to any other plane or orbit would cause you to run out almost all the fuel you could carry. Anyway enough with the orbital mechanics 101, let's just suffice it to say it is not as easy as any of you are thinking.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Capt Kirk

      So – we create a mess on the planet. Reference: Floating Garbage pit in South Pacific Ocean.
      Then – we create a mess in space cause ... you know...we are idiots.

      Now...its like – um - gee we have to clean up space! Because when we rocket through the atmosphere in 100 years we will have random accidents because someone thought it would be ok to abandon used space parts – after all – space is...space!

      So before I go off on a tanget – it is clear that this is a real problem. Maybe the current president should get together with other world leaders and create a Space Unified Collection Kit – or S.U.C.K. for short...and clean up space...

      or A better Idea...lets clean up the planet we live on first, and if we have time we can start cleaning up the mess we made in space...

      September 2, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
      • Kwai Chang

        We won't have time. Look at the rate the population is exploding. Natural resources are dwindling. No amount of 'green investment' will cancel out those trends. The longer we spend confined to a single planet, the more likely we are that the human race will go extinct.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  69. Jerome

    I read an opinion article yesterday on CNN about how we should "partner" with China on space missions now that we
    have no vehicles to get to the Space Station. Perhaps the Chinese could start by cleaning up the 130,000 pieces of junk generated by their blowing up the weather satellite in 2007.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Right after we clean up the 300,000 pieces of junk from SolWind.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  70. nytw

    I've been reading these same kind of stories for the last 30 or40 years. Just another example of liberals finding ways to spend money.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • 3lwood

      You're right. Lets just ignore it. It'll go away on its own. Oh, and it certainly hasn't gotten worse in the 30-40 years they have been warning us.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Chris

      Uh-huh. So by your logic, a hurricane warning is less valid 6 hours before the storm hits, just because they started warning you about it a week ago? Fail.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • slewatha

      Yes, this is a liberal plot to spend money. Tool.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Helmut Doork

      You should consider being euthanized.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Geoff

      I have never posted a comment, but I'm finally done. I'm so fed up w/ you Republican #$#$@#@'s blaming everything on liberal conspiracies, etc. The progessives are about furthering society for the better. Your group would rather send us back to a fuedalistic era. When I'm reading a story on space debris, I don't expect to read about your political view. Now, I suppose I will expect to read about your backward, conservative rantings anywhere. Since your party also loves to cut education constantly, we'll be a country full of idiots and I'll expect to hear these absurd comments in every hallway my shadow darkens.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
      • PR

        Thank You!!!

        September 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • toof987

      Epic fail.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Nomad/TanRu

      EErrror, Errror ID:10-t

      September 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  71. Chris

    "It seems prescient now that an artist in 1978 performed this rendering to highlight the danger of orbital debris."

    No, that's just a logical extrapolation of the then-current pace of space pollution. What's prescient is that the artist painted space shuttles in 1978 when they didn't launch the first one until 1981.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • JK

      The space shuttle image isn't really prescient either – though the first full launch was in 1981, the first Shuttle (originally called Constitution, but renamed Enterprise) was unveiled in September 1976.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Zeke

      The Shuttle was hardly a secret in 1978. Ever see "Moonraker?" That movie features twenty-something shuttles, and it was filmed in 1978.

      September 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  72. Paul

    Magnets. How do they work?

    September 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Chris

      The magnetic flux density (also called magnetic B field or just magnetic field, usually denoted B) is a vector field. The magnetic B field vector at a given point in space is specified by two properties:

      Its direction, which is along the orientation of a compass needle.
      Its magnitude (also called strength), which is proportional to how strongly the compass needle orients along that direction.

      In SI units, the strength of the magnetic B field is given in teslas.
      A magnet's magnetic moment (also called magnetic dipole moment and usually denoted μ) is a vector that characterizes the magnet's overall magnetic properties. For a bar magnet, the direction of the magnetic moment points from the magnet's south pole to its north pole,[7] and the magnitude relates to how strong and how far apart these poles are. In SI units, the magnetic moment is specified in terms of A·m2.

      A magnet both produces its own magnetic field and responds to magnetic fields. The strength of the magnetic field it produces is at any given point proportional to the magnitude of its magnetic moment. In addition, when the magnet is put into an external magnetic field, produced by a different source, it is subject to a torque tending to orient the magnetic moment parallel to the field.[8] The amount of this torque is proportional both to the magnetic moment and the external field. A magnet may also be subject to a force driving it in one direction or another, according to the positions and orientations of the magnet and source. If the field is uniform in space, the magnet is subject to no net force, although it is subject to a torque.[9]

      A wire in the shape of a circle with area A and carrying current I is a magnet, with a magnetic moment of magnitude equal to IA.
      The magnetization of a magnetized material is the local value of its magnetic moment per unit volume, usually denoted M, with units A/m.[10] It is a vector field, rather than just a vector (like the magnetic moment), because different areas in a magnet can be magnetized with different directions and strengths (for example, because of domains, see below). A good bar magnet may have a magnetic moment of magnitude 0.1 A·m2 and a volume of 1 cm3, or 1×10−6 m3, and therefore an average magnetization magnitude is 100,000 A/m. Iron can have a magnetization of around a million amperes per meter. Such a large value explains why iron magnets are so effective at producing magnetic fields.
      Although for many purposes it is convenient to think of a magnet as having distinct north and south magnetic poles, the concept of poles should not be taken literally: it is merely a way of referring to the two different ends of a magnet. The magnet does not have distinct north or south particles on opposing sides. If a bar magnet is broken into two pieces, in an attempt to separate the north and south poles, the result will be two bar magnets, each of which has both a north and south pole.

      However, a version of the magnetic-pole approach is used by professional magneticians to design permanent magnets. In this approach, the divergence of the magnetization ∇•M inside a magnet and the surface normal component M•n are treated as a distribution of magnetic monopoles. This is a mathematical convenience and does not imply that there are actually monopoles in the magnet. If the magnetic-pole distribution is known, then the pole model gives the magnetic field H (see also Demagnetizing field). Outside the magnet, the field B is proportional to H, while inside the magnetization must be added to H (see Units and calculations). An extension of this method that allows for internal magnetic charges is used in theories of ferromagnetism (see micromagnetics).
      Another model is the Ampère model, where all magnetization is due to the effect of microscopic, or atomic, circular bound currents, also called Ampèrian currents, throughout the material. For a uniformly magnetized cylindrical bar magnet, the net effect of the microscopic bound currents is to make the magnet behave as if there is a macroscopic sheet of electric current flowing around the surface, with local flow direction normal to the cylinder axis. (Since scraping off the outer layer of a magnet will not destroy its magnetic field, it can be seen that this is just a model, and the tiny currents are actually distributed throughout the material). The right-hand rule tells which direction the current flows. It is usually difficult to calculate the Ampèrian currents on the surface of a magnet, whereas it is often easier to find the effective poles for the same magnet.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
      • Nichole

        Finally, geek speak, aaaaaahhhhhhhhh, so comforting, even if it is copy and paste, I thank you.

        September 2, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • KatyQ

      Great idea! I kinda pictured a giant fishing net attached to two spaceships grabbing what they could then taking it further out into space, out of our orbit, and tossing it out there. Repeat until its all gone. Ask China to man the other space ship.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • ROFLCOPTER

      While I appreciate the sarcastic response, the original poster was referring to an Insane Clown Posse song called "Miracles"...if you have not you tubed it yet I would suggest it. A laugh fest for sure.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
      • Chris

        I'm aware of that. But it was a chance for a good copypasta that I couldn't pass up.

        September 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  73. bailoutsos

    If the space station is abandoned, can the Chinese board it to salvage it, then claim it? Do maritime laws apply to space?

    September 2, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Paul

      If you read the article you would know the answer is no.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
      • bailoutsos

        Paul If you read the article you would know the answer is no. --- Missed the "international law," but what would prevent it iff there is no way to get into space? Go to war with China?

        September 2, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  74. bailoutsos

    After the space station is abandoned, it is another piece of junk ready to fall to Earth.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Clark Nova

      It will be intentionally de-orbited and will burn up (mostly) over the Pacific. Maybe as soon as next year.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  75. ME

    I seem to remember they were proposing Aerogels to pick up space debris. Did that not work out as scientifically or economically feasible?

    September 2, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • wisdom

      the aerogel experiment you are refering to was designed to "pick up" dust particle sized space debris... from a comet if i remember correctly.....

      September 2, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Price some aerogel and you'll see why this ain't gonna happen.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  76. davetharave

    The best way to remove all of this orbiting debris is with a robot collection vehicle, circling the earth with maneuvering ability and linked to ground based radar and orbiting tracking satellites. This robot would identify pieces of debris, move into parallel orbit with them, then use a mechanical arm (rescued from the shuttles perhaps ?) to pluck the debris from orbit and place it in an adjacent disposal canister. When the canister is full it can be pushed off towards the sun for ultimate disposal. Unmanned vehicles would bring additional canisters and fuel supplies to the robot so that it could continue it's mission. Tell me we don't already have the technology to build something like this today.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • orion7x

      Most of it is small enough to burn up in the atmosphere. Just have to make it go there but, like you said, a robotic device could do this.

      Any anime fans out there? There is an anime series that is about just this and it is actually pretty smart about how they think of this. The name of it is "Planetes"

      September 2, 2011 at 11:47 am |
      • orion7x

        Ooops, just read lower down and the same thing was mentioned... lol... Great minds think alike...

        September 2, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • zubi

      We have the technology. Just waiting for congress to cough up the money to put it all together.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
      • Sundance1958

        'Congress' to cough up the money to pay for it? You make it sound like their going pay for it out of their own wallets. LOL, you and I are the ones that are going to have 'cough up' the money.

        September 2, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Sandman

      The issue is we can only get our own junk. Now we would try to contract to other countries to collect their failed devices. However we would need to guarantee that we would not try to open or inspect, only destroy. If they want to pay for it we could return to sender.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:53 am |
      • davetharave

        We can get 'their' junk too. How are they going to know if it ends up being destroyed, either in our own atmosphere or in the sun ? And besides, the hell with them, if they're not going to do anything about it then get out of our way.

        September 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Sundance1958

      Right, and are yoiu willing to pay the millions if not billioins for this high tech garbage collection system?

      September 2, 2011 at 11:53 am |
      • Zeke

        No, all of us are. Satellites are hugely valuable to the people of this planet.

        Or would it be better to wait until the collisions begin a chain reaction that is truly impossible to clean up, and the era of safe and reliable low-earth orbit comes to an end? How much would _that_ cost?

        September 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Chris

      The amount of deltaV required to "move into a parallel oribt and collect the debris" is simply unrealistic. Most satellites are lucky if they can manage one such orbit change throughout their service life. You would generate more debris launching extra fuel to the robot than it would pick up.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Dude

      Changing orbits to match a piece of junk would require a lot of fuel. So they are more likely to use small devices to work in narrow orbit ranges. An ion drive ship with a ball of gel to capture small objects would be ideal.

      Sending it to the sun is not practical. Again the fuel required to leave the earth's gravity then cancel the momentum of orbiting the sun. Much easier to send is spiraling to earth. Larger objects would be aimed at the oceans. But, large objects are not the problem. You can track them and avoid them. Small things, like screws moving at 17,000 MPH are far more dangerous.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Zeke

      Look up "gravity well."

      The fuel required for launching the junk to the sun would have to be dragged around by the garbage truck satellite as it burns even more fuel running from one orbit to the next. Just visiting the junk in the first place is a pathological version of the Traveling Salesman problem, fuel-wise. At the very least, the junk should be pushed back down to Earth.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:57 am |
      • Sundance1958

        Zeke, I have news for you, humans got by fine for a long time without 'satelites'. Personally I think the world would much better off without all that junk floating around in space. I can live without a gps, cable and satelite tv, radio, and a cell phone with or without a data plan. I got by just fine without them when I was a kid. I think going back to a less complicated, less stressful, more simple way of life would be good for everyone.

        September 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
      • Rbnlegnd101

        You can do without. And yet, here you are.

        I have to admit, I just don't understand anyone who says "all this progress is too hard. I want to go back to when we had it easy, working dawn till dusk just to get enough food to get by". Spend a year or two in a third world country working a farm if you think that life is so great. The rest of us will keep going in the other direction.

        September 2, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
      • Zeke

        A simpler time when basic navigational errors killed thousands of mariners and airmen per year, lack of reliable aerial reconnaissance nearly led to war between the US and the Soviet Union, weather surprises killed hundreds (instead of dozens), etc. GPS, weather satellites and other technology isn't just about finding the nearest Starbuck's and knowing if you should pack an umbrella.

        People are nostalgic for their childhoods, which only seemed simpler because they were children.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
      • JimVA

        "People are nostalgic for their childhoods, which only seemed simpler because they were children"

        Seriously dude, that's a great point. Did you make that up?

        September 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • MillieNeon

      What about Merry Maids in Space?

      September 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
      • griz5106

        Sundance: Nice to know that what YOU thnk is what is best for EVERYONE!

        September 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Mark

      See comments about the tremendous cost of changing orbit. Maybe an application for solar sail? If the collectors last long enough, they don't have to zip around at high speed. So what if a fleet of these things takes 20 years to finish one sweep.

      September 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Programmr

      Orbital mechanics dictates that the delta-V requirement for such a vehicle would be so large that what you propose is essentially impossible. Yes dave, this is "rocket science", and it's not as easy as it seems.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • stan turecki

      I'm afraid you have no concept of the reality of orbital dynamics. the plan you propose is about as realistic as cleaning up the north pacific gyre by having individual human swimmers leave the east coast of japan, swim across the indian ocean, around the horn of africa, across the atlantic ocean, through the panama canal, finally into the pacific ocean to collect a single piece of plastic flotsam so that they can turn around and trace the same route they took back to japan. all while carrying all of their own supplies for the trip, unsupported by anyone else.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • deathwombat

      Remember that space is three dimensional and stuff is orbiting at different altitudes. It doesn't take a lot of thrust for the orbiting robot to change direction, but it takes an enormous amount of thrust for it to change its altitude. There's currently no way to convert solar energy into thrust, so the robot needs to have a massive amount of fuel on board so that it can get to where all of the junk is. For any kind of longterm operation, it would need to be refuelled from time to time by rockets from Earth (much as Soyuz rockets resupply the ISS). This is going to be a very expensive proposition.

      Another solution that has been studied is whether it would be possible to use a laser to give space debris a bit of a bump to slow it down, so that it's no longer moving fast enough to escape Earth's gravity. Slow it down a little bit and it will eventually fall back to Earth. The energy costs of a laser powerful to hit an object in space with enough energy to slow it down would be extremely expensive, but the energy would be going to an object on Earth, which is a less expensive longterm proposition than refuelling an orbiter by sending rockets to it.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
      • Yes1fan

        Actually directed light (laser) can be made from solar. It is known that mere sunlight affects the tumbling of asteroids, plus if you ever did the vacuum solar windmill (like an anemometer) in physics class, you know this is true as well. Recently a scientist demonstrate a yard-based laser that can tell the difference between female mosquitoes and everything else in the air, and ONLY target them. Same kind of orbiting-solar-powered-laser tech could be used for satellites, to deflect and slow them to a de-orbit burn.

        September 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      Can you say "Space-Roomba"?

      September 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      The shuttle arm is useless for picking up sub-centimeter sized debris, which is most of it.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  77. TheTraveler

    "Tackle the problem of space debris... " Heck, you're talking about a species that can't even clean up our roadsides ...

    September 2, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Clark Nova

      In a century or so humanity will be extinct or living in mud huts and the condition of space won't mean very much. It'll have a few million years to clean itself before the next sentient species evolves.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  78. CrystalRiver

    Seriously, now we know we cannot reach other planets by any conventional methods available, mankind must do the utmost best to clean up the planet and wait for different kinds of chance for space odyssey. We don't need all these toys we have now. We should give the planet a Sabbath rest and recovery time.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Trippp

      "We dont need all these toys"? Just like we didnt need the horse, or the auto, or the train, telephone, all medical break throughs, silicon chips, transistors, etc...I could go on til next week naming these "toys". Then you want to give the planet a "Sabbath"? So what denomonation is the plantet Earth? What god does it bow to?

      I will agree that we needed to keep our planet clean 300 years ago at the start of the industrial revolution. But our ancestors couldnt see beyonf their pocket book, same as our leaders now.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Kwai Chang

      Sorry, we don't "know" anything of the sort. Quite the contrary. The only reason we have not visited our neighboring planet Mars is lack of funding and political will to do so. We can do it easily with today's technology. Actually, we could have done it with Apollo era technology.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  79. Netr0

    lol cj, I was just thinking of that manga/anime . Good stuff

    September 2, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  80. CJ

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes

    September 2, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • reikou

      Cool. Reading chapter one now.

      September 2, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Lomunchi

      Remembering, of course: "Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space, listen..." all these bits are pretty spread out so they'd be difficult to retrieve if we tried.

      But with that same referenced physics, How much of this debris is truly in a stable orbit? I'm guessing most of it will eventually have it's orbit decay, start plummeting to earth and burn up on re-entry, just like NASA has most of it's bits do. Others, who are just a tad too far away, will eventually be propelled out into the void of space. How much of the 'stuff' out there do we really need to go after?

      September 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
      • Programmr

        Much of it will eventually reenter. The only reasonable solution is to do everything possible to not create new debris. As others have said, only two events pretty much doubled the debris problem. One was the Chinese deliberately blowing up a dead satellite as part of an anti-satellite weapon test. The other was the collision of a dead satellite with one that was operating.

        September 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Why does everyone posting here give Reagan a free pass on the Solwind disaster? Not old enough to remember it? The hundreds of thousands of pieces are still out there. What about NASA's criminal orbiting in 1961 and 1963 of millions of copper needles, which they promptly lost track of? It was called the West Ford Project. Look it up.

        September 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  81. Wzrd1

    Wow! She's been fighting for her life for a decade.
    Scammer.

    September 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  82. Joma14

    sad way to get your excitement

    September 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm |

Contributors

  • Elizabeth LandauElizabeth Landau
    Writer/Producer
  • Sophia DengoSophia Dengo
    Senior Designer